Work Experience Stories: From the Nuffield Foundation
Hi, my name is Jen Young and I am a 17 year old student studying A-level biology, chemistry, geography and maths and always knew my future lay in the field of science. Therefore, when I heard of an opportunity to undertake a research project through Nuffield Research Placements, I jumped at the opportunity. I was thrilled to find out I was starting my research placement at Manchester University’s Dalton Cumbrian Facility on the 20th of July.
I applied because I was thinking of studying biology or biochemistry at university so when this opportunity came
up; I had to grab it with both hands as it would give me valuable experience in a research-based environment. This type of career appealed to me and I felt it was appropriate to gain first-hand experience of the work they do there and the different projects going on. Finally, it would allow me to learn some practical skills, including how to use some of the lab equipment which would surely aid my UCAS application and show that I have valuable experience in my subject area.
My project focused on determining how gamma radiation affected the digestion of feedstock, in this case a poor quality grass from the hills of Cumbria called scrow, and how the pretreatment may affect the yield of biogas from set amounts of grass silage and slurry. In order to identify an appropriate method, several preliminary trials were carried out to determine the best volume of inoculum and the mass of grass silage per 50ml vial. A few other trials were undergone to determine grinding time and “mashability” so the investigation was quite thorough.
This project was requested by Riever Renewables a major anaerobic digester development company which gave the research a real sense of importance and it showed that it was relevant to current science. The research could even be used for a future PhD or paper which could prove to be beneficial to renewable energy production in the UK.
My previous knowledge about the affect of radiation pretreatment on feedstock was limited as it hadn't really
been done before. The only familiarity I had with the project was the process of anaerobic digestion but even then I have gained a bounty of knowledge in the subject. With access to the ideas of the PhD students I can confidently say I know exactly how they work and after my research placement I can say that I am able to efficiently and accurately use equipment.
The experience far exceeded my expectations as I was trusted to use extremely expensive equipment and spent a
lot of my time working in a laboratory environment without supervision, which allowed me to gain plenty of experience while also being independent and figuring things out for myself. It was amazing to undertake scientific tasks while expanding my knowledge of the area. It really helped me understand what it is like to be a research scientist and it has given me an insight into the world of research. The experience has made me even more determined to apply for a place on a biological science course at university, mainly due to the confidence this placement gave me and the impression it gave me of a career as a research scientist.
On my placement, I had two supervisors, Andy and Laura. They assisted me throughout my project and gave me an insight into not only their work but their lives as researchers. Laura would always make sure that I had enough research to carry out so I was never bored and I understood exactly what the project entailed. Andy showed me the ropes and helped me throughout, showing me how to use the equipment, what research had been carried out so far and what his role was. It was a great opportunity to ask questions and learn about their field while also getting to know them as a person.
The experience taught me to use several different types of equipment safely and efficiently and how to draw
conclusions from data collected. My practical skills developed immensely and I now feel more confident when using the equipment having learned how to use much more advanced equipment during my placement than I would be expected to use at school.
On my project, I also had to write a report. This enabled me to work on my literacy skills and made me further understand the scientific concepts by having to explain it to others. Having never written a scientific report I was worried, especially as it was potentially being used as part of a paper but it turned out quite well and I was able to write a detailed report of my method and an analysis of my results drawing my own conclusions. Now I feel much more confident. This skill will prove to be very useful when I go to university or even in year 13 when I write essay answers.
This experience has made me realise that I would love to pursue a career in research specifically in human biology and thanks to their advice I know exactly what path I want to take. Even if this path doesn't work out I know many other ways to work in research and after my experience I can say that I would enjoy working there and I find it really interesting.
I encourage anyone thinking about a career in a STEM subject to apply for a Nuffield Research Placement. The skills are invaluable and simply not covered in school. It will benefit you greatly, especially when thinking of going to university. It is a great way to spend some of your summer holidays and it is an experience that not many people get this early in life. The opportunity will require work and perseverance but it is entirely worth it, not only through teaching you new skills but also through providing you with confidence in your abilities.
Find out more:
Nuffield Research Placement: http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/nuffield-research-placements